WATKINS BACK IN THE MIX?
A senior captain is back. A crucial junior corner might be, and a valid argument could be made regarding which player is more important to the future of the 2016 Irish.
“He’s playing. He’ll be fine,” said Kelly of concussed wide receiver Torii Hunter. “I thought he was a little rusty Tuesday. Wednesday he was a little better. Today, he got back into a rhythm. He got in some long drives and two-minute. He made some plays in two-minute, which I think got him back into his rhythm.”
Hunter sat out last week’s win over Nevada after leaving the previous week in Austin when Texas safety Deshon Elliott delivered a blow to the receiver’s head. (Elliott has since apologized for the hit.)
“You take a week off in our offense where there’s so much volume for those wide receivers, you lose a little bit (or rhythm),” Kelly continued. “He’s a little sore. He was a little stiff and sore for a day or two. So it was kind of getting the kinks out. Today he looked pretty much back to where he had been.”
Not back to where he’s been, nor where he needs to be, is junior cornerback Nick Watkins. But for the first time since breaking his humerus in April, Watkins appears capable of playing at some point in the near future.
“There’s been some bone growth there that has been a positive sign for us. We’ll get another x-ray. They did a scan. Now they’ll do further work next week,” said Kelly. “We’ll probably have a definitive word on him some time next week.
“He practiced very hard this week. He was in a lot of football this week.”
Watkins started the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and fared well relative to his rookie status. He entered spring ball in competition with Shaun Crawford – lost last week for the season after tearing his left Achilles – for the starting left cornerback role opposite senior Cole Luke.
“He’s in pretty good shape. His volume is really good in practice,” said Kelly when asked about realistic hope that Watkins could return this fall. “On our GPS, he was about 460, 470, which is pretty high for any of our players. So his ability to take on volume was pretty good. We’ve just got to get a green light that we’re not putting him in a position where he could hurt himself. Maybe a week, two weeks…a couple weeks.”
Fourth cornerback Nick Coleman will make his second career start Saturday as Crawford and Watkins watch from the sidelines.
MORE THAN MAULERS?
Due in large part to its recent past, Michigan State’s program is defined by a penchant for the physical. (For instance, do you think reporters are asking Spartans players this week if they’re prepared for Notre Dame’s physicality on Saturday as were Notre Dame’s beat writers throughout the week?)
But Kelly has made it clear this week that the game won’t be one decided merely by brute strength.
“They do other things. They’ve got smart coaches. They know what they’re doing. They get in the shotgun. They can spread it out. They’ve got some tight ends that can catch it,” Kelly said. “The receivers are really good Big Ten receivers.
“We don’t need to minimize Michigan State at all. They’ve got good players and good schemes and good coaches. They’re not going to line up in a box formation, shift around and hand the ball off to the Four Horsemen. So it’s going to be a challenge.”
Still, matching the Spartans power at the point remains Job 1. And Kelly scoffs at the notion that not all his Irish might be up to the task.
“Our entire offensive line (are) physical guys. (Running back) Josh Adams is a physical player,” he began. “There’s not one guy…(Safety) Drue Tranquill is a physical player, (Linebacker) Te’von Coney…All of our guys like the physical contact. They’ll rise to the occasion of what the game calls for and the mental toughness necessary to match what Michigan State is all about.
“But this is not a boxing match, either. This is not UFC,” Kelly continued. “We have to execute. We’ve got to catch the football. What we can’t get caught up in is the emotion of a game like this where words turn into poor actions. I’ve talked to our guys about being poised and just doing their job, and if they do that, our team is strong enough and physical enough to match up with anyone.”
BUT HE RARELY TWEETS…
Combined win total in South Bend: 195.
Combined national championships: 3
Aggregate times ranked among the A.P. Top 10 at season’s end – 15…in just 22 combined seasons at the helm.
Yeah, Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian are guys you might want to listen to if you coach college football. The latter remains heavily involved with Kelly’s efforts under the Dome.
“Ara has been great. He’s someone, both of them, that I respect greatly,” said Kelly when asked about recent interactions with the Irish legends. “Ara and I get a chance to talk pretty much through correspondence through the year. He drops me a note virtually every week. Then through our foundations we get a chance to spend time.
“Same thing with Coach Holtz. That keeps us connected. The charitable work inevitably allows us to segue into football topics.”
Asked if emails and texts have been part of the correspondence, Kelly chuckled, offering, “(Parseghian) writes a card to me. I keep them all. I have a book of cards that he drops me after most games. It’s pretty special.
“He’s not a man of many words, but they are, for me, inspirational in the sense that at 90-something years old, he takes the time to write me and I can read them.”